The United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution last week authorizing a hybrid United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force for Sudan’s Darfur region. This was a culmination of months of hard work by Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who had declared that Darfur was his number one diplomatic priority:
“From day one of my office, when I declared that the Darfur situation will be my highest priority, that is exactly because I have seen that, unless we address this issue as soon as possible, there will be more suffering on the part of Darfurian and Sudanese people. And I think that they have suffered too much. It is high time now; we must see the end of this conflict.”
The Security Council finally accepted his challenge. Indeed, the Council adopted Ban Ki-Moon’s detailed recommendation for the 26,000 troop mission, based on his successful behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Sudanese government and the African Union. The resolution incorporates by reference the Secretary General’s description of the peacekeeping force’s mandate as set forth in his June 5, 2007 letter to the Security Council.
However, the Council’s action is only the first step. The peacekeeping force will not be fully operational until the end of 2007, at the earliest. This in turn will depend on obtaining the necessary funding, recruiting the requisite number of troops and getting the troops into Darfur without interference from Sudanese President Omar Hassan al Bashir's government.
Moreover, the mandate of the force is ambiguous, as are the consequences to Sudan if it does not call off its government-supported Janjaweed thugs who are murdering Darfur’s black African civilians. China was especially insistent, as a price for its support of the resolution, on limiting the peacekeeping force to largely a monitoring role and including specific provisions respecting Sudan’s national sovereignty. China also got its way on removing the explicit threat of economic sanctions from the resolution if Sudan does not abide by its terms. China does not want anything to disrupt its profitable economic relations with Sudan, nor to disrupt a major source of its oil supplies.
In the end, however, China wanted to be perceived as a constructive international player as it continues to expand its economic influence in an interdependent world, especially in Africa where its own human rights record was beginning to be questioned. Sudan is important to China to be sure, but not critical enough to go out on a limb for against the tide of international opinion. China will also have a stake in the success of the mission since it is about to send a contingent of military engineers to Darfur, where they will begin the essential communications and logistical work that must precede the mission.
So, after years of frustrating inaction, there is an opportunity for the international community to finally stop the genocide that has taken 200,000 lives and has displaced two million people. Most importantly, the mandate leaves room for the peacekeepers to be militarily proactive. For example, there will be “proactive patrol programmes, using both high mobility vehicle patrols for greater area coverage and foot patrols around towns and villages to reassure the local population”. The peacekeepers will not only monitor, but also “promote efforts to disarm the Janjaweed and other militias”. They will have company-level operations on the ground in order to achieve “early stabilization” and airmobile patrols to “deliver infantry quickly to more remote areas in order to improve security”.
Critics rightly point out a major caveat in the mandate that could prevent the peacekeeping force from effectively protecting civilians. They may “contribute to the protection of civilian populations under imminent threat of physical violence and prevent attacks against civilians” but only if they do so “without prejudice to the responsibility of the Government of the Sudan.” (Emphasis added) And Bashir has a history of invoking sovereignty to protect the status quo. With no threat of meaningful economic sanctions hanging over his head, Bashir may well decide to throw up roadblocks rather than cease hostilities and allow the peacekeepers and humanitarian workers to restore order and a lifeline to the people.
However, once the peacekeeping force is present in Sudan in full strength, the Sudanese government will be at a military disadvantage if it chooses to confront the force while it goes about its mission. Moreover, the government will not have any credibility if it tries to argue that the peacekeepers’ actions to immobilize the Janjaweed murderers and rapists who have been terrorizing the civilian population prejudices any legitimate “responsibility” that the government has to protect its own civilian population. The only prejudice to the government’s activities will be to undermine its illegitimate support for these very same murders and rapists.
If Bashir does not cooperate with the peacekeepers, they will provide first hand detailed reports of his intransigence and the tragic consequences to the Security Council, with a compelling case for tough sanctions. China will feel too much heat from the public spotlight to stand in the way of sanctions again.
But all this depends on an effective peacekeeping operation under unified UN command that is fully empowered by UN headquarters. As we learned from the horrible tragedy in Rwanda, the UN commanders on the ground must have the authority to determine what is necessary to stop the killing fields. Interference from the bureaucrats in New York will kill the mission instead.
A million Rwandans were murdered in 1994 after the UN stood by and did nothing. Kofi Annan was Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations at the time. Not only did he refuse to take charge when he had the chance to head off a mass murder, but he allowed his confidante Iqbal Riza —the same man accused years later of shredding papers relating to the Oil-for-Food program—on his own authority to override a life-saving recommendation of the UN’s commander on the ground in Rwanda, Maj. Gen. Romeo Dallaire.
Maj. Gen. Dallaire had relayed a fax to UN headquarters in New York containing credible intelligence that Rwandan government extremists planned to exterminate minority Tutsis imminently. The commander recommended a pre-emptive raid by UN peacekeepers to seize a large cache of illegal weapons before they could be used against helpless civilians.
Riza, with Annan’s knowledge, directed the commander to stand down and do nothing. Dallaire, of course, turned to be right and a genocidal campaign that would ultimately result in over 800,000 deaths took place shortly thereafter.
In a 1999 PBS interview, Riza was asked about his reaction to the Dallaire fax, which, according to the interviewer, clearly “said that the informer had been trained to exterminate Tutsis. That wasn't political, that was a kind of genocide, truly.”
Riza said that he was sorry about what happened but excused his disregard of the fax’s warning with this cynical observation:
“Look, since the 1960s, there have been cycles of violence--Tutsis against Hutus, Hutus against Tutsis. I'm sorry to put it so cynically. It was nothing new. This had continued from the '60s through the '70s into the '80s and here it was in the '90s…”
According to the Associated Press, Annan blocked several probes to determine who saw the fax that ordered Maj. Gen. Dallaire to give up his plan to intercede. Annan also reportedly refused to allow the commander to testify before a Belgian panel investigating the events in Rwanda because he did not believe it was ''in the interest of the organization.''
This was typical of Kofi Annan throughout his long, ignominious career as a UN insider. He protected his organization’s reputation, no matter what the moral consequences. Indeed, for the same reason, Annan and his chief deputies apparently did what they could to cover up the significant pattern of the sexual abuses committed by the UN peacekeepers while he was Secretary General until they were forced to act when the scandal came out in the open anyway.
The jury is still out on Ban Ki-Moon, but there is some reason to believe that he will assert the leadership that was sorely lacking during Kofi Annan’s tenure. He pushed through reforms in the General Assembly that restructured the UN’s peacekeeping functions in order to provide better planning, faster deployment and a more responsive process. And he has recommended that there be specific tough enforcement measures taken against any sexual predators found among the ranks of the peacekeepers and against their superiors.
Ban Ki-Moon is tough, even if he appears understated at times. For example, he took on the hypocrites running the UN Human Rights Council, criticizing their disproportionate targeting of Israel while ignoring the worst human rights abusers. In so doing, Ban angered the 57-member Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) which pulls the strings of the Human Rights Council. Pakistan, serving as OIC's chairman, told the Human Rights Council members that they should 'streamline' their relationship with Ban. That is a diplomatic way of trying to kill the messenger. While they succeeded in cowering Kofi Annan, they are not likely to get their way with Ban. Instead, his personal involvement in negotiating the terms of the peacekeeping mission in Darfur and getting the Security Council on board is marginalizing the Human Rights Council and the other morally bankrupt propaganda forums at the UN that have undermined its credibility.
The Darfur mission may be the UN’s last chance to prove its relevance in helping to end the suffering of innocent civilians at the hands of a genocidal regime. The success of the mission can restore confidence in the power of multilateral diplomacy under the auspices of the UN and show to the world that, after the succession of failures during the last two decades, the United Nations can function effectively after all. Its fate – as well as the fate of those it is trying to help – hangs in the balance.